LPS versus SPS corals…which stony coral should you choose?

When it comes to choosing stony corals there are a lot of choices…

 

Personally I always recommend LPS corals over SPS corals, especially to newbies. Here’s why I’m so fond of them:

 

LPS are so diverse and easier to please compared to SPS corals which are way more demanding in terms of care and their requirements

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But, what makes LPS and SPS corals so different?

 

  • As you can probably guess the main difference between them is the size of the living polyps inside the calcium carbonate skeletons.
  • LPS polyps are large and soft and SPS polyps are small and don’t extend as far
  • SPS corals have branching, plate-like or encrusting skeletons, whereas LPS corals come in many, many different forms
  • Most importantly LPS corals are WAY less fussy about their environment so are easier to keep.
A mostly LPS themed tank is a thing of beauty (image credit: Franklin Samir Dattein)

A mostly LPS themed tank is a thing of beauty (image credit: Franklin Samir Dattein)

There are vital differences between caring for LPS corals versus SPS corals you should know about…

 

1. Many LPS species are not even reef corals, instead hailing from the bottom of tropical lagoons of the world; many living on the sandy substrate, these species do rather well when placed on the substrate of your tank.

 

2. Lagoon environments typically have less pristine water quality than a reef environment (where SPS corals come from), so many LPS corals have a greater tolerance for sediment and nutrients in the water.

 

3. SPS corals come from just below the waters surface in high water movement reef zones whereas LPS corals come from deeper lagoon bottoms with less water movement so are less demanding for high light and prefer less turbulent water flow.

LPS's are less demanding and more tolerant than SPS (image credit Stephane Duquesne)

LPS’s are less demanding and more tolerant than SPS (image credit Stephane Duquesne)

 

4. LPS corals really thrive with supplementary feeding, even though many have zooxanthellae, additional feeding really helps them do well.

 

5. LPS corals have bigger polyps so many species can take bigger foods such as mysis shrimp and pieces of shellfish flesh – It can be a real joy feeding your LPS corals and watching them eat!

 

6. LPS corals are very popular because of their relative ease of upkeep (most species) but also because of their usually extended large colourful polyps (mostly happens at night), which make them the most photographed corals in the world!

It's not hard to see why LPS are the most photographed of all corals (image credit: Stephane Duquesne)

It’s not hard to see why LPS are the most photographed of all corals (image credit: Stephane Duquesne)

 

7. But, large polyps also means that they are more easily damaged so care needs to be taken to keep them out of high water flow areas and away from physical damage as a hurt polyp often may not recover.

 

8. LPS corals are generally larger than SPS corals and also unlike SPS corals they are much harder to propagate (frag) in captivity so most specimens are wild caught.

 

9. LPS corals tend to fully expand their polyps especially when they are doing well, this expansion is a lot more pronounced than with SPS corals. The extent of the expansion also depends on current, lighting and whether the coral is feeding or not.

Extended large fleshy polyps make for some interesting LPS forms (image credit: Franklin Samir Dattein)

Extended large fleshy polyps make for some interesting LPS forms (image credit: Franklin Samir Dattein)

 

10. LPS corals are multiplied in the homes system usually by budding (binary fusion) but they have also been known to spawn at home.

 

11. A definite downside to LPS corals is their nasty sting. They have a highly developed stinging capacity similar to anemones so care must be taken not to place them to close to other species as they compete for space fiercely, this can easily result in a dead coral.

 

12. As well as a mighty sting LPS corals are equipped with sweeper tentacles; these unusually long tentacles are deployed and survey the area immediately around the coral looking for any competing coral or other organism which then gets attacked by the stinging sweeper tentacles until it moves far enough away or dies!

 

(image credit: Stephane Dusquenes)

Keep your LPS at least 6 inches from other corals and ‘nems (image credit: Stephane Dusquesne)

Here’s how to select a great LPS specimen:

 

You can easily avoid the headache of working out what’s wrong with your coral days after getting it home by learning how to select a good quality LPS specimen for your tank:

 

>>  Check for brown jelly: brown jelly disease (bacterial in origin) is a common often-fatal problem in LPS corals that is also very contagious, so check your specimen thoroughly for any sign of a brownish jelly like substance, avoid like the plague!

 

>>  Look at polyp expansion: a healthy LPS coral has well expanded polyps in the correct conditions. Avoid specimens with little or no expansion, if the coral is new to the LFS it will usually wait a few days to begin to expand, if this is the case wait before buying!

choosing LPS corals

Fully expanded polyps is a great sign when purchasing your LPS corals

 

>>  Do you have enough room? Some species like the Hammer coral grow large and quickly; make sure you have enough room for it (remember the sweeper tentacles?) and have the calcium supplements it will need.

 

>>  Check for tissue recession: where the polyp (fleshy tissue) meets the skeleton should never be pulling away leaving the bare skeleton, this may be covered by algae so check carefully! This specimen will probably die.

 

If you can choose a good LPS specimen and take care of it properly it will easily thrive and give you years of trouble-free enjoyment.

Don’t forget, if you would like access to my free ebook “9 Saltwater Aquarium Success Tools” to minimize mistakes and get your tank thriving simply click the button below.

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About Andrej Brummer
Hi I'm Andrej, a biologist, geek and best-selling author of 11 aquarium books. I love helping people minimize mistakes and create sustainable, thriving tanks. I believe all captive marine life should have the best chance possible if we take them out of their natural habitats.
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